Friday, August 17, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
By now, most people realize that Google profits by collecting as much information as it can about everybody and selling it to advertisers – information that many of us willingly hand over in exchange for the use of free services like their search engine and Gmail. It’s very invasive, but those of us who don’t want them to keep track of our every move can simply turn off tracking in our privacy settings and that’s the end of it, right?
Not so fast. A recent investigation from the Associated Press revealed that many of the Google services on iPhones and Android devices store people’s location data even if they’ve activated the privacy settings that are intended to prevent such behavior.
You might feel like you have some control over the situation because you can turn off your location history at any time, but according to the Associated Press, this is simply an illusion; Google apps automatically store your timestamped location data even if you’ve paused location history. Princeton University computer science researchers confirmed the AP’s findings on multiple devices.
No one would blame you for believing that Google is upfront about getting your permission to collect and use information about your location. After all, apps like Google Maps request permission to access your location when you use them for navigation. However, Google files a snapshot of your location when you open Maps either way, and searches that aren’t even related to your location in any way can pinpoint your exact latitude and longitude right down to the square foot and then save it to a person’s Google account. Other features, like automatic weather updates, also pinpoint users’ locations. All told, 2 billion Android device users and hundreds of millions of iPhone users who use Google for search or Maps are impacted by this invasion of privacy.
In a statement, Google said: “We make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.” However, many users do not realize this is occurring.
Although the company claims that it is transparent, its wording can be very misleading. For example, when an iPhone user turns Location History off in their device settings, they see a message that says: “None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History.”
That is technically true, but Google Maps and other apps will then simply save your whereabouts in a different section of your account known as My Activity instead of Location History. They’re still tracking and storing it – they’re just putting it in a different place.
Tech companies like Google and Facebook have been increasingly coming under fire for shoddy data practices. The European Union recently enacted new data privacy rules in response to this problem, and Facebook has seen a slew of privacy scandals in recent years.
If, like many people, you find this behavior unacceptable, the best thing you can do is avoid using Google products altogether. Don’t buy devices that run on Android operating systems, and avoid using Gmail, Google maps, the Chrome browser, YouTube, and the Google search engine.
Of course, Google is so prevalent nowadays that it would be impossible to avoid them entirely; many websites use their AdSense network to support themselves, and the search bar on many sites is also powered by Google. However, in cases where you do have a choice, you can stick to alternatives like DuckDuckGo for search and REAL.video for watching and sharing videos.
See Orwellian.news for more stories about Big Brother.
Sources for this article include: